Monday 27 November 2023

Walthamstow parkrun

Walthamstow is a town in the London Borough of Waltham Forest, in the east of London. It was first recorded as Wilcumestowe and subsequently appeared in the Domesday Book as Wilcumestou where it was a manor owned by Earl Waltheof of Huntingdon and Northumbria. According to Wikipedia, the name means 'the place of welcome'. It remained a small settlement with much of the surrounding area used as farmland. Towards the end of the 19th century, the railway arrived. This was the catalyst that led to the expansion of Walthamstow into the sprawling residential town we know today.

The oldest part of Walthamstow is centred around St Mary's Church. On the opposite side of the road is Walthamstow's oldest house, the wooden framed building 'The Ancient House' built in the 15th century. This part of the town is now known as Walthamstow Village. Modern-day Walthamstow is home to around 110,000 people and recent developments have seen the area become quite trendy. The High Street is notable for being home to Europe's longest open-air market; it features 500 stall holders and is 1 kilometre in length. Owing to the popularity of the 1990's boy band, Walthamstow has one the UK's most recognisable postcodes.

The area has some significant links to the development of transportation. John Kemp Starley, who is considered the inventor of the modern-day bicycle was born in Walthamstow. The UK's first four-wheeled motor car with an internal combustion engine was built in Walthamstow in 1892. The vehicle was donated to the Vestry House Museum in 1933 and is still on display (we were going to pop in to have a look, but couldn't find anywhere to park the car). The first mass-produced bus, the B-Type, was manufactured in Walthamstow. One of the B-Types became the first bus ever boarded by the British monarch, and that exact bus has been on display in the Imperial War Museum since 1970. The first British-built powered plane took off on its maiden flight from Walthamstow marshes in 1909.

In the northern part of Walthamstow was a farm called Wadham Lodge Farm and from 1867 this was run by a man called John Hitchman. He later went on to establish the Hitchman and Sons business which was a very well known local supplier of milk and other dairy products. This company was eventually bought by United Dairies in 1947, but the Hitchman name continued to be used locally until the 1990's. The land that was Wadham Lodge Farm is now a sports ground. The sports ground was acquired by the London Playing Fields Foundation in 1991. With funding from the Sports Lottery and the Peter May Memorial Appeal, the site was transformed with its updated sports centre opening in 2000. It is now known as the Peter May Sports Centre, taking its name from the famous 1950's cricketer.

The sports centre has facilities for sports and recreation activities including badminton, table tennis, soft play and has a hall for other private events, such as wedding receptions. However, the main sports catered for are football and cricket. It has a particular claim to fame as being the home of Ridgeway Rovers Football Club, who can name footballers David Beckham and Harry Kane as former players. It has also produced many successful cricketers including half of the 2019 double-winning Essex team. The grounds are also home to a free, weekly, timed 5k event called Walthamstow parkrun. This is open to all fitness abilities including those who wish to walk the course. I first visited the parkrun at its inaugural event in January 2013, and re-visited in November 2023.

On my first visit I travelled by train and alighted at the nearest station, Highams Park. This station is about 1 kilometre away from the sports ground. As of 2023 it is served exclusively by trains on the London Overground. The closest London Underground services run to Walthamstow Central which is the last station on the Victoria Line. This station is three kilometres away from the sports ground, but it does interchange with the Overground Line to Highams Park. Some local buses pass reasonably close to the venue, the closest are the W16 and 212, but the 97, 158, 34 and SL1 also seem to stop within walking distance.

The National Rail train network does not pass through this part of London, so if using National Rail, you'd have to alight and change to the Underground, Overground or bus networks to complete the journey. In 2023, I used the car and the venue has its own, free, on-site car park. There are spaces for somewhere in the region of 300 vehicles. If travelling by bicycle the sports ground has bicycle racks. Once within the grounds, the toilets and changing rooms can be found inside the sports centre (using the side door which faces the main vehicle/pedestrian entrance).

The meeting point for the parkrun is on the grass right in front of the south side of the Peter May Sports Centre building. Any bags or jackets etc can be left around the base of the large tree on the corner. I would note that as well as parkrun, the sports centre hosts junior football training sessions on a Saturday morning, so expect there to be various groups of people milling around. As far as the briefings are concerned, the first-timers briefing takes place at the meeting point and the main briefing takes place at the start line which is about 50 metres or so to the east.

The parkrun takes place over a three-and-a-bit lap anti-clockwise course. The surface underfoot is grass, and while this course is definitely not hilly, there is a slight rise in elevation through the first part of each lap. Shoe choice will depend on the course conditions, as the grass can hold onto quite a bit of water after periods of rain, and does get muddy. If in doubt, I would go with off-road shoes. The course is fine for buggy running, although some may prefer to avoid doing so in unfavourable conditions. Sadly I would say this course is not suitable for wheelchair athletes. Also, and this is very important, the sports ground is a private facility and not a public park. Dogs are not permitted on site.

At 9am the parkrun gets underway. From the start, the participants head west back past the meeting point where the course turns and runs adjacent to the entrance road. The course then simply follows the outer perimeter of the sports ground. There is soon a gentle incline that lasts around 200 metres and this leads into the long back straight on the eastern side. Most people probably won't notice (I didn't on my first visit), but if you look across the parkland to your left, in the far distance you can see Alexandra Palace (Ally Pally) perched right at the top of Alexandra Park.

The course then heads gently downhill as it approaches the north-east corner of the park. Turning again, the course the heads along the northern border. Just beyond the treeline and the fence is the River Ching, which forms the border between Walthamstow and Chingford. The route passes behind the football goals and can be single file at points. Towards the end of this section there is a small slope which leads through a tiny trail-like section of course, and this is followed by a 3/4 lap around the edge of a small football pitch which ends with a very short section cutting across the corner of the car park.

The course now follows the inside perimeter as it goes around the sports centre and the 3G football pitch (this is a third generation synthetic surface). The main points to note here are that if the football goals are in position, there are a couple of narrow sections to pass through, and if you visit on a sunny morning, the sun can give a strobe-like effect when passing the fencing. I had to put my hand next to my eye to block the flickering as this type of light can bring on migraines for me. This inner part of the course simply leads around to the original start point where the second and third laps start.

Once past the start area at the end of the third lap, there's just a little further to go before reaching the finish which is adjacent to the entrance road. There were some nice touches at this venue in the shape of bespoke signage, there was a 'Well Done', a 'Smile' and at the very end, a 'Sprint Finish Starts Here'. Once over the line, the barcode scanning takes place straight away. When we visited in 2023, we crossed the line with the tail walker and volunteer parkwalker, and the results were processed before we'd even left the finish area. So that was super fast!

I recorded the course with my Garmin and the data can be viewed on Strava. I used that data to create a Relive Course Fly-by Video that can be viewed on YouTube. In terms of numbers of participants, this venue tends to have around 120-150 participants each week. It does of course vary throughout the year, and it looks like the weekly attendance sometimes dips under 100, this is usually due to unfavourable weather conditions. On the day we visited, which was the 27th of November 2023, event number 480, there were 128 finishers.

I imagine that most people would class this course as fairly unmemorable or not particularly exciting (laps around sports fields). However, I found it very nice and the fact that I don't have to worry about loose dogs is a real bonus for me. I think the autumnal colours during my second visit really helped to bring it to life. Plus there are of course the lovely bunch of locals and volunteers that add that extra bit of magic to the weekly run or walk around the grounds.

Once the event has finished, there is a kiosk at the sports centre where you can pick up some light refreshments. I got a bit caught up doing an extra lap of the course and taking some extra photos, so ran out of time for that. This had been a lovely morning of parkrunning (mostly parkwalking, which is of course perfectly fine), and I'd like to extend a big thank you to the volunteer team for making us feel welcome.

Related Links:

Wednesday 22 November 2023

Pymmes parkrun

Edmonton is a town within the London Borough of Enfield, north London. The town was recorded as Adelmetone in the Domesday Book of 1086, and had 87 households, putting it in the top 20% of all settlements recorded in the document. For many years it was simply a village outside of London, but the arrival of the railway line in 1872 provided a catalyst for its expansion. It now has a population of around 82,000 people and is one of the most ethnically diverse areas in England.

In 1327, a local landowner William Pymme built a grand house in the area, called Pymmes House. It sat within its own landscaped grounds. Over the years, the estate changed hands many times and, according to Wikipedia, was home to some notable people including Sir Henry Tyler who was involved with organising the Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations in Hyde Park (also known as The Crystal Palace Exhibition), he also donated numerous items for display at the Science Museum, which was of course created using the profits from the Great Exhibition. The house was also home to the Nawab of Bengal for a short period.

The estate was bought by the local council at the very end of the 19th century, and in 1906 Pymmes Park opened to the public. Historically, Pymmes Brook - a minor tributary of the River Lea, and named after the Pymme family, ran along the southern border of the estate, but much of it has now been culverted and flows underground. A separate water course ran through the centre of the grounds, and this was landscaped into a lake. Pymmes House was destroyed by a fire in 1940 and the remains were demolished soon after. A Victorian walled garden still exists in the park and this is Grade II Listed. In more recent times, the park was reported to have been used as a filming location in the Rogue One Star Wars movie, although I'm not entirely sure if the footage made it into the film.

The park itself features two very distinct halves. The northern part consists of a large open grass field which is marked out with, I think, six football pitches, and there is a football pavilion building at the far north end. The southern half contains the formally landscaped areas, featuring many mature trees and includes the lake and the walled garden, plus there is a fair-sized children's playground. There are a few sports facilities such as a bowls club, basketball courts, and tennis courts. There is also an amphitheatre located in the central southern area. Finally there is a wetland area adjacent to the lake. The park is also a Site for Local Importance for Nature Conservation.

The local council seems to be very keen to promote fitness activities in its parks, and one of these activities is the park's free, weekly, timed 5km event called Pymmes parkrun. It had its inaugural event in April 2011, and is open to all abilities including wheelchair users and those who wish to walk. This particular parkrun was initially set up and run by the council's Sports Development Team and Tottenham Hotspur Football Club's Foundation Team. It was these teams that managed the event when I first visited back in 2012, and if I'm totally honest, my experience was not great.

I didn't write about this in my original write-up, but the team didn't turn up until 9am, and while waiting for them, a fellow parkrunner who had popped over from a neighbouring event alluded that we may have to self-time and then email our barcode details and finish times to the team for processing. I don't know for sure, but it sounded like this may have happened previously. The issues must have been noted as a problem at parkrun HQ, and I believe an intervention must have taken place. In March 2013, at event 101, the organisation of the event was officially handed over to local volunteers and this marked the start of a new era.

On 18 November 2023 I revisited the venue to see how things had changed 11 years on, and I'm pleased to say that the experience was infinitely better than my original visit had been.

In 2012 I had travelled on public transport and alighted Silver Street station, which is right outside the entrance to the park. The only thing that has changed is that Silver Street station is now served exclusively by trains on the London Overground. If travelling on National rail, you can alight at Edmonton Green and either walk or change to London Overground to Silver Street. The 32, 102, 149, 444, and 279 bus services all stop close by.

If driving, the venue is easily reached via the North Circular Road and free on-street parking is available on the roads that run alongside the west, north and east borders of the park. In 2023 I parked the car on Victoria Road. The roads are residential so the parking spots are quite popular, but I didn't have any trouble finding space. The only thing to note regarding parking restrictions is that due to the park's close proximity to Tottenham Hotspur Football Club, these roads are restricted to permit holders on match days between noon and 9pm, so that shouldn't cause any problems for parkrunners. For bicycle users, I didn't spot any bicycle racks in the park itself, but there are fences and benches that I saw people using. However, there are some proper bike racks just outside Silver Street Station.

It is worth noting that the toilet block in the park is now permanently closed, so if you think you may need to use the facilities you will need to head elsewhere. As we were driving, we had a quick pit-stop at the Lea Valley Tesco Extra (N18 3HF) which worked just fine. Another possible option could be to head over to Fore Street where you could try the McDonalds or hope to find a sympathetic cafe owner. Once in the park you need to head towards the amphitheatre which is where the parkrun people all meet up. Anybody that visited pre-lockdown would have assembled at a different meeting point - this new location is a much better spot.

The briefings take place in the area in front of the amphitheatre and once complete, the crowd of parkrunners move across to the start area which is on the path in between the lake and Victoria Road. The parkrun takes place on an almost-three-lap anti-clockwise course. The surface underfoot is 100% tarmac and the park is flat. Standard road running shoes will be fine all year around. It is also ideal for both buggy running and for wheelchair users. At 9am the assembled parkrunners are sent off on their 5 kilometre journey around the park.

The start is in the southern half of the park, which is the prettier half. There are many trees to admire and you'll get a small glimpse of the lake at the start, but to take in the best view across it you'll have to explore the park a little deeper either pre or post parkrun. The course simply uses the perimeter path at all times and as long as you always stick to that path, you can't get lost. Please note that there are no arrows marking the route. On my first visit there were no marshals, but on my second visit there were three dotted around the course at various key points.

From the start the participants head north along the eastern perimeter path which runs alongside Victoria Road. The path turns slightly deeper into the park where it passes the playground via a lovely avenue of trees (our 2023 visit was during the autumn where the park was in its full golden autumnal coat). At the end of the avenue, the route passes the permanently closed toilet block and enters the northern half. Here the central area is a large open grass area and there are mature trees lining the park's border with the adjacent roads. Participants simply follow the path. Anyone that visited before the course change will remember this section as the event's original start and finish area.

The path continues around the northern side of the park, heading along the northern border adjacent to Park Lane where it passes the football pavilion building. The course then turns and follows the path on the western side of the park which runs alongside Swan Briar Walk. Just before moving back into the southern half of the park, the path passes the wetlands area. This was created to assist in improving the water quality of the lake. It seems that before the works, and probably for many years, some of the plumbing in the local area had been installed in a way that inadvertently led to waste water from homes and business being discharged directly into the lake.

Heading back into the southern half, the park takes on the feel of a typical Victorian style London park. The course passes the basketball courts and the tennis courts as it takes in another lovely avenue of trees which leads directly to the southwest corner. The course turns and now runs alongside Silver Street where the course passes Yacht Pond where the adjacent path is quite narrow. Look out for the memorial to Lance Corporal John Alexander Christie, who was born in Edmonton - he was awarded the Victoria Cross for his bravery during World War I. Right after passing the pond you will find a section that has been playfully named 'Yacht Pond Hill'. It's just a tiny slope, but I really love the fact that it has been named in such a way!

The path now leads back around to the original start point to complete the lap, which is 1.7km in length. A second full lap is completed, then just before the end of the third lap, the course turns into the finish funnel which can be found on the path adjacent to the Pymmes Park Visitor Centre building. This is the building with the abstract mural covering it. Barcode scanning takes place immediately after the finish and the post-event social is advertised as being at Cobblers Coffee Shop, which is over in the main shopping area, on Fore Street.

Pymmes parkrun was for many years one of the smallest events around. The first few years saw regular single figure attendances, which considering this event is in a highly populated part of London, was quite unusual. Over the years, the attendances ever-so-slowly crept up and in April 2018, at the 7th birthday celebratory event, they had their first ever 100-plus attendance figure. As of 2023 the average weekly attendance seems to hover in the 120-150 range. The results for event 584 were published later that morning and there had been 142 participants.

I recorded the course using my Garmin and the course data can be found on Strava. I used that data to create a course fly-by video using the Relive app on my phone. The video can be viewed on YouTube. With the event over, we made our way back to the car to travel home. I must say that I really enjoyed my re-visit to this park - it was much nicer than I remembered it being, and I've made a mental note to schedule my next visit for the summer. It was fantastic to see the event thriving after its difficult beginning. A huge thank you goes to the team of volunteers that made us feel so welcome.

Related Links:

The 2023 course GPS data (18 November 2023)

The 2012 course GPS data (25 November 2012)

Monday 30 October 2023

Bromley parkrun

Bromley is a town in south east London which sits in the London Borough of Bromley. At 59 square miles, it is the largest borough in the whole of London and has a population of around 332,000 people. The town of Bromley is home to around 88,000 of these. The name was first recorded in the 862 Anglo-Saxon charter where it appeared as Bromleag, which would have signified an open field or heath where Broom (a large deciduous shrub) grows. It also appeared in the Domesday book (it appears to be written as Bronlei) where it, with 56 households, was in the top 20% of settlements in the country at the time.

The Manor of Bromley was created in 862 and in around 1100, the original Bromley Palace (also known as Bishop's Palace) was built. The palace building still exists and stands to the east of what is now a very large central shopping area, where since 1982 it has formed part of Bromley Civic Centre and the main offices for the London Borough of Bromley. Bromley itself prospered over the years by being on the main route between London and Hastings. The arrival of the railway in 1858 provided a further boost to the growth of the town.

Bromley has a large variety of green open spaces, but the one that is of interest for this blog is Norman Park which is located approximately 1 mile to the south of the central shopping area. The land that now forms the park was historically farmland belonging to the Norman family who resided nearby in The Rookery (the site of the house is now the Bromley campus of London South East College). Bromley Council purchased the farmland in 1934 in order to create a park and they named it after the family. It covers an area of 56 acres and is mostly large open grass areas often marked out with a total of 8 (or sometimes 9) football pitches. There are four small brick pavilion buildings dotted around the park, used for storage of equipment and containing changing rooms for the football teams. All of the areas adjacent to the park are either fields or woodland.

The Ravensbourne River meanders through the centre of the park where it is flanked by a selection of large mature trees - the river had previously been culverted but was restored in 2000. The far south-west corner of the park features a children's playground and that is it as far as everyday facilities go. However, the park also has a sports facility, known for many years as Norman Park Athletics Track, but now goes by the name of Norman Park Community Sports Centre. It is run by Blackheath and Bromley Harriers AC. I visited the track in 2015 for a Southern Counties Veterans Athletics Club meet, where I set my all-time 400m and 3,000m personal bests. The write-up for that event can be found here: SCVAC Kent Divisions 2015.

On 29 August 2009, Norman Park became home to a free, weekly, timed 5km event called Bromley parkrun. It is the 19th oldest active parkrun event in the world. The first year or so featured attendances in double figures, but by a year into the event it started to regularly attract over 100 participants each week. As the years went by the attendances continued to grow and in 2019 the event broke the 900 barrier for the first and second times. The current attendance record of 942 was set in August 2019. The attendance figures as of October 2023 tend to regularly be over 500, with some weeks breaking into the 600's. Incidentally, when I first registered for parkrun in 2010 I selected Bromley as my home event.

Despite it initially being my home, my first visit to Bromley parkrun didn't happen until October 2013 (my 112th parkrun the 42nd venue I had visited). In October 2023 I finally got around to making my second visit to the event, so I used the opportunity to put together this updated write-up on the venue.

If travelling to Norman Park in a vehicle, the park has two car parks and both are completely free-of-charge. The smaller of the two holds about 90 vehicles and can be accessed via Hook Farm Road, just of Bromley Common (better known as the A21). The larger car park is accessed from Hayes Lane and can hold around 200 vehicles. Despite this fairly high number of spaces, the car parks do reach full capacity when parkrun takes place. There are some additional options to park on local side streets, with the best selection being around the Hayes Lane area.

For travel by train, the closest stations are Bromley South (1.1 miles) served by Thameslink and Southeastern trains from London Victoria or London Blackfriars, and 'Hayes (Kent)' (1.3 miles) which is only served by Southeastern trains from London Bridge. Depending on your start destination, it may be easier to travel to Bromley North; this is also served by Southeastern trains from London Bridge but on a different branch and is further away from the park (1.8 miles). Buses that pass close to the park are the 119, 146 and 314 which stop on Hayes Lane, or the 61 and 208 which stop on the A21 (Bromley Common). Finally, if cycling there are bike racks adjacent to both car parks.

Once in the park, the parkrun attendees and volunteers initially assemble near the pavilion on the north-east side of the park. For the record, it is known as pavilion number 3. The building is fully accessible to parkrunners and there are toilets inside. Bags and coats can be left inside for the duration of the event. However it is perfectly fine to go straight to the start line, but please be aware that Bromley parkrun has a summer course and a winter course, and they have different starting points. The summer course is usually used from May-October and the winter course from November-May. However, the move to the summer course can happen as late as July. From what I have read, Bromley Council may 'deliberately leave the grass to grow for biodiversity purposes' and this means the courses cannot be switched until the mowers have been out.

The summer course takes place over two-and-a-bit-lap of the park course which is mixed terrain, with the split being almost 50/50 between grass and tarmac. The winter course is 100% on tarmac and is two-and-three-quarter-laps. The park is pancake flat and this lends itself to being good for putting in a good time. Buggy runners are fine on either course, and I would also suspect wheelchair athletes would be fine too, although the winter course looks to be the better option. For shoe choice, given that there are summer and winter courses, road shoes should generally be fine all year round.

The start of the summer course is on the grass at the south-west corner of the park, next to the playground. The start of the winter course is on the south side path, but further to the east, not too far from the Hook Farm entrance and quite close to pavilion 4. The briefings take place at the respective start point. Both courses are negotiated in a clockwise direction and both finish in the same place (outside pavilion 3). The winter course is the easiest to describe, as it simply just follows the tarmac path right around the perimeter of the park - there's simply no way that anyone can get lost or take a wrong turn, because it is one single path which loops round almost like a running track with a slight kink where it passes around the Hook Farm car park.

The summer course uses the same tarmac path for part of its route, but has a section that cuts onto the central part of the grass and follows the course of the Ravensbourne to the south and the returns on the opposite side of the river heading back to the north. The route remains on the grass while passing the parkrun pavilion, until eventually rejoining the main path near the Hook Farm car park. In order to remain on-course it is important to keep an eye out for the cones and to keep these to your right - if they are on your left, you may be cutting a corner and could inadvertently encroach on the football pitches. After two-and-a-bit laps have been completed, the final section avoids the Ravensbourne bit and continues straight on into the finish funnel. When I first visited this venue, the barcode scanning took place inside the pavilion building where odd numbered tokens were scanned inside one doorway and even numbered token were scanned inside another. In 2023 the scanning took place outside.

The post-parkrun refreshments arrangement is that hot drinks are available at the pavilion free-of-charge to parkrunners and the volunteers after the event. If you are lucky there may even be something sweet to nibble on. If something a little more substantial is required, the team may then head over to Taste Bud on Chatterton Road (not far from the Hook Farm entrance). If that's not quite your cup of tea, Norman Park Community Sports Centre also has a cafe/bar. We didn't go in so can't give any further information regarding the range of options offered. Their website did not have a menu at time of writing this post, but it was noted that one will be added soon.

Throughout the year, the parkrun can be subject to cancellations, both planned and last minute. Notably during the summer months there can be other events, such as the Bromley Pageant of Motoring (usually in June) using the park. Then there is often a fireworks display and funfair in early November (although not in 2023). The park is also subject to quite severe flooding and this inevitably leads to cancellations - of course this can happen at any time of year, but the winter is when the risk is highest. Given that the winter course is all on tarmac, snow and/or ice are both likely to lead to a cancellation.

The results for Bromley parkrun event 642 were processed and uploaded a short while later, and the attendance figure was 564. So that was very representative of the current expected number of attendees as of October 2023.

I have a selection of GPS readings and Relive course fly-by videos for the courses - the links to those can all be found at the bottom of this page. I will note that when I took part way back in 2013, the tarmac path was still under construction so the old 2013 GPS data is ever-so-slightly different to the 2023 version as that course was almost entirely grass. The last thing to add is that the volunteers were all brilliant and the vibe here was really good. Thank you very much for having us.

Related Links:

London Borough of Bromley parkrun write-ups:

Sunday 22 October 2023

Beckenham Place parkrun

Beckenham is a town located in South East London. It was historically part of Kent but became part of the London Borough of Bromley in 1965. The population of Beckenham is around 46,000 people. Its name was first recorded in the Saxon charter of 862 where it appeared as Biohhahema mearc. It was subsequently recorded in the Domesday Book as Bacheham and in the Textus Roffensis as Becceham. Beckenham Manor had been held by various people throughout time, but in 1773 was acquired by John Cator. He had already previously purchased the adjacent land where he built a fine mansion called Beckenham Place, complete with various outbuildings such as a stable block. The grounds of the mansion were landscaped and featured many exotic trees, a pleasure garden, and a lake.

The mansion and its grounds remained under the ownership of the Cator family for over 150 years. They eventually no longer resided there, but it was used for a number of purposes including a boys school and a sanatorium. A golf course was established within the grounds in 1907. The estate was purchased by London County Council in 1927 and opened as a Beckenham Place Park in 1929. At the same time, the golf course became the first municipally-owned golf course in England. During the Second World War a prisoner of war camp was set up and anti-aircraft measures were installed.

Beckenham and its park have a link to David Bowie, who lived in multiple houses in the vicinity of the park in the 1960's and 1970's. There is an information board in the park that gives some further details, but it does note that one of the houses had a secret gate at its rear which led directly into the park. He was known to have used it to avoid crowds of fans gathered at the front, he was then picked up by his driver at the Beckenham Place Park gate. The information board also notes that he was known to have used the park to rehearse scenes from Lord of the Rings, which he would later perform at the Beckenham Arts Lab.

The boundaries of ownership on the land the park sits on has been quite complex over its entire history, and the theme continues right up to the modern day. Historically much of the land of the park was part of the adjacent Foxgrove Manor rather than in Beckenham itself. In more recent times the boundaries of the London boroughs of Bromley and Lewisham ran through the park (boundary markers can still be found if you know where to look). In 1995 the borders changed meaning that the park now sits wholly within the London Borough of Lewisham.

Like many public parks, there wasn't much investment towards the end of the 20th century and this led to both the mansion and the grounds falling into a poor state of repair. The mansion and other historic buildings were noted as being in a serious state of disrepair, and the lake had dried up. In 2016 Lewisham Council was awarded a grant of £4.7m for the purpose of regenerating the park and its historic features. At time of writing, the projects are still in progress, with the old stable block having been remodelled into a cafe and education centre, and the lake reinstated. Further works including a full redesign of the eastern side of the park are also planned.

At 98 hectares, the modern-day park is the largest green space in the London Borough of Lewisham. Its landscape is quite natural and features open grass meadows along with various plantings of trees as well as large areas of ancient woodland, plus the Ravensbourne River runs along the park's eastern edge. A train line constructed near the end of the 18th century passes directly through the park, effectively cutting it into east and west sections. Facilities for kids are located in the far northeast corner of the park where there is a playground and a BMX track, and there is also a fairly new play area near the mansion. A big change has been the closure of the golf course in 2017 and this has allowed the park to become more accessible to the public. Some of the formal pleasure garden areas have also been reinstated.

In November 2016 the park became home to its very own free, weekly, timed 5 kilometre community event called Beckenham Place parkrun. It is open to all abilities including those who wish to walk the course. The original route, which was in use when I first visited in December 2016, exclusively used the western side of the park and featured a two lap course, however while parkrun had its enforced closure during 2020 and 2021, the course was completely changed. In fact since I last visited, absolutely everything, from the start and finish areas, best parking location, cafe, and the course, is totally different. It is like visiting a brand new parkrun venue. If you are interested you can read the original blog7t write-up, but remember that this updated version supersedes it. I revisited the event on 21 October 2023 and took part in event number 293. 

An important thing to note before travelling to the venue is that the park is large and some of the entrances are a long way from the parkrun meeting point, which is at the mansion. If travelling by public transport there are numerous bus stops in the vicinity of the park, however the best one to alight at is the Highland Croft bus stop which is served by the 54 bus. Other bus services that stop further away are the 354, 208, 320, 135, 181, 336 and 354 (all listed on the official course page). If travelling by train the closest station is Beckenham Hill which is served by Thameslink trains and the ongoing walk to the meeting point is about 700 metres. Cyclists can secure their bikes at the bike racks located next to the mansion or at other racks located near the Homestead Cafe.

If travelling by vehicle the park has a car park which can hold 108 vehicles - the car park can only be accessed from the vehicle entrance on Beckenham Hill Road. Lewisham Council have introduced a new payment system for all of their car parks, one that I have not encountered before. The fee for parking your vehicle is determined not only by the length of stay, but also by the vehicle's emissions. The cost ranges from £1.50 to £4 per hour depending on which emissions category the vehicle falls within.

All payments must be made through a cashless system using either the PayByPhone app or website, or via a phone call. Payment by cash or card at a machine is not possible, however there may be an option to pay in local shops (check the information board or Lewisham Council's webpage). Blue badge holders can park for free for up to four hours. There is also some free on-street parking on some streets outside the park, the closest of which seems to be Foxgrove Road, but Crab Hill, Westgate Road and Bromley Road are the recommended options.

The toilets are located within the old stable buildings called The Homestead which can be found opposite the car park - they are right under the clock tower. As mentioned above, the parkrun meeting point is outside the mansion which features a large portico and is just a little further along the park's internal road. The briefings take place here and at 9am the event gets underway. There are some marshals around the course, but the route itself is marked with bespoke parkrun markers. If when taking part you lose contact with other parkrunners, you will need to rely on these for much of the navigation around the course.

The course is usually described as being a one lap route, but a more accurate description would be to say it is a point-to-point course as the finish is in a different place to the start. If you have any items such as a jacket that you don't wish to run with, you can put it in the wagon which is taken over to the finish area by the volunteers. The course covers almost the entire park, including a section that uses part of the original course and can be described as undulating. The surface underfoot is a mixture of tarmac, gravel, grass, woodland paths, with some sections featuring uneven sections and tree roots. I'd describe it as being best suited to trail shoes. Participants with running buggies are of course welcome, but the style of course does not seem to be suited to wheelchair athletes.

From the start the route heads along the tarmac road where the elevation drops steadily. The condition of the road is not great and there are some old speed bumps that are in a very poor state of repair, so watch your footing. The initial section features open grass fields to the sides with views across the former golf course. The path itself changes to a light gravel as it gently meanders from left to right before starting to rise ever-so-slightly as it heads into Summerhouse Hill Wood.

Summerhouse Hill Wood is an area of ancient woodland where some of the trees may be up to 400 years old. The surface underfoot changes to woodland paths that weave around and eventually the course reaches its highest point which is just outside the southern end of the wood. It may get a little splashy and muddy here in the winter, but it wasn't too bad when we visited in October 2023. Continuing back into the woodland, the elevation now drops down until exiting the wood next to the restored lake. This is 'Carol's Corner' and it marks the 2 kilometre point.

From this point onwards the route is almost entirely flat. The third kilometre begins with almost a full loop around the lake, which is used by open water swimmers and there's also a boat hire available. After the loop of the lake, and a very sharp turn, there is a man-made mound - this feature is a fairly recent addition to the park and forms part of one of the park's new garden areas. Those who climb the mound are apparently rewarded with views across the park. The parkrun course doesn't climb the mound, instead it simply passes by before crossing the bridge across the railway line and entering the east side of the park. Anybody that visited this venue before the lockdown may recognise this section as it was part of the original course.

After a 1.5km loop around the northeast corner, where the course follows the clearly defined dirt path, hoggin path, a tarmac path, and then a final dirt path, the course returns to the west side via the same footbridge over the railway line. Another interesting point to note is that the Meridian Line passes just past the eastern border of the park. At this point there are only 500 metres left of the course, and this is simply a case of following the path until reaching the finish area. There is a slight sting in the tail as the last 200 metres feature one last incline. It's not super steep, but being at the very end means you'll certainly feel it.

Barcode scanning takes place right next to the finish area, and the post-event social is held in either the park's Homestead Cafe or in the new cafe in the basement of the mansion. We grabbed a couple of treats from the Homestead Cafe, where there is also some covered outdoor seating in the courtyard. From what I hear, the cafe in the mansion itself has fewer options. The gardens and the new playground are in this vicinity, so are easy to find if they are to be part of your visit. On this occasion, autumn had started to set in and we were a little too late to see the garden at its best.

There are plans to totally re-landscape the eastern side of the park, and once complete will feature new pathways, bridges, wetlands and a new play area. These works commenced a couple of days after this write-up was published.

Update: From 28 October 2023, there will be a revised course in place which avoids the eastern side of the park. The revised and temporary course map has been published on the event's Facebook page: Beckenham Place parkrun revised course notification post. I have also obtained some GPS data for the temporary course: Beckenham Place 2023-2024 temporary course. It features a two-lap section in the woods, so this version of the course works out as being more undulating than the standard course.

The results for event 293 were published later that morning and there were 221 participants, which was slightly lower than average due to the early morning rain. The current expected weekly attendance figure in good conditions is somewhere around the 300 mark. If you'd like to see the GPS data of the course please feel free to have a look at my Strava data which I recorded with my Garmin. For another view of the course, I also made that data into a course fly-by video using the Relive app on my phone; this can be viewed on YouTube. The course appears to be fairly resilient to cancellations, but watch out for the occasional summer cancellation when the park hosts a festival during August.

It was nice to re-visit the park and try out the new course. As well as previously visiting Beckenham Place Park for parkrun, I have also taken part in the Beckenham Trail 10k and the Beckenham Team Relay, so I recognised some areas of the park during the new route. The new parkrun course is definitely an improvement on the original 5k route, and as it is an entirely different route, it is like taking part in a brand new event. With that in mind, I would definitely recommend a re-visit to anybody that has not taken part on the new course.

Lastly, I'd like to thank all of the volunteers who enabled the event to go ahead.

Related Links:

The course GPS data (October 2023)

Winter 2023-2024 Temporary Course Map (Beckenham Place parkrun's Facebook page)
2023-2024 Temporary course GPS data (From 4 November 2023 - original data not mine)

Sunday 8 October 2023

Somerdale Pavilion parkrun

About halfway between the City of Bristol and City of Bath lies the town of Keynsham. The site of the town has been occupied since prehistoric times and has a current population of approximately 20,000 people. The earliest written record of the town is from c.980 when it was recorded as Cægineshamme. It was subsequently recorded in the Domesday book as Cainesham and the modern town retains the same pronunciation. The original source of the name is not certain, but the most popular theory seems to be that it takes its name from Saint Keyne (or Keyna) who apparently lived locally in, what was then, an uninhabitable serpent infested area. Her prayers are said to have turned the serpents to stone, thus making the area habitable.

A settlement existed here during Roman times and it is thought to be the site of the lost Roman town of Trajectus. This theory is supported by the large number of Roman houses and artifacts found in the town. One of the most significant is a villa on the site of Keynsham Cemetery which is thought to be one of the grandest Roman villas in Britain. The foundations of a Roman building can be viewed near the town's train station, however this is not the original site of the house, they were excavated during the construction of a factory in the 1920's and relocated here for display. Also, the town's library has displays of Roman pottery and some of the mosaic floors that were removed during excavations. A further 15 buildings and a Roman road were discovered in 2012.

Around 1166, the Earl of Gloucester founded the monastic Keynsham Abbey, in the town. It operated until 1539 when King Henry VIII's Dissolution of the Monasteries saw it closed and slowly stripped of all of its materials. Many of the stones were reused in buildings, bridges and walls around the town. A small section of the ruins of the abbey remains. What little there is left is now Grade I Listed and a Scheduled Ancient Monument. The town is situated at the confluence of the River Avon and the River Chew, and this historically led to regular floods. While this problem has largely been resolved, the northern part of the town, called Keynsham Hams, is still a flood plain.

In the 1920s, the Fry's chocolate company (J.S Fry & Sons), which had recently merged with Cadbury's, built a factory (the one mentioned above), housing, a social club, and sports facilities in the Keynsham Hams part of town. Following a national competition, the development was named Somerdale Garden City. Somerdale Factory initially produced Fry's chocolate products such as Fry's Chocolate Cream, which was the world's first mass-produced chocolate bar. During the Second World War, chocolate production was reduced due to rationing and, according to Wikipedia, part of the factory was used by Rolls-Royce to manufacture their Merlin engines. These were used in many famous war aircraft including the Spitfire and the Hurricane.

Somerdale Factory went on to produce many of Cadbury's most well-known and loved chocolate products including Dairy Milk, Crunchie, Buttons, Creme Eggs, Cadbury's Fudge, Double Decker, and most importantly for the subject of this write-up, the Curly Wurly. It continued to produce chocolate until it was closed down in 2011. The site has since been redeveloped with many new homes, but importantly, the area still retains the same ethos that was installed previously with social facilities and community at its heart. Some of the original chocolate factory buildings have been refurbished and, together with some newly built blocks, are called The Chocolate Quarter retirement village. This comprises assisted-living apartments, cafes, restaurants, bars, entertainment facilities, community garden and workshops. Many of these facilities are open to the wider community.

There is also a brand new sports, health and leisure centre called Somerdale Pavilion. Keynsham Hams (also now known as Somerfield Meadows) is nestled into an area adjacent to the River Avon and is now the location of many sports including golf, rugby, football and baseball. Adjacent to the sports fields is the volunteer run ShamXcross cyclo-cross track. By kind permission, their track is used on Saturday mornings for the town's free, weekly, timed 5k community event called Somerdale Pavilion parkrun which had its inaugural event in November 2018. Like ShamXcross it is also run by volunteers and is open to all abilities including those who wish to walk. We visited the town to take part in the parkrun on 7 October 2023 which was their event number 154.

As this venue is quite far away from home for us, we stayed overnight in a Premier Inn. The closest one is Bristol South (7 miles away), but as they had run out of family rooms, we stayed in the Bristol East Premier Inn (Emersons Green). Although further away (8 miles) it was actually a quicker drive due to the nature of the roads used. Once in Keynsham there are a few parking options. The option recommended on the parkrun's course page, is to park in Somerdale Pavilion's Lower Car Park. The current (2023) fee for the car park is 60p per hour and payment can be made by cash or by using the RingGo app.

The main Somerdale Pavilion car park has the same payment arrangement, but it is requested that parkrunners do not use it unless the lower car park fills up. I would add that if paying by RingGo the two car parks have separate location codes, so make sure you use the one that matches the car park you are in. The letters on some of the spaces indicate areas that are reserved for permit holders between Monday and Friday only. Some people may prefer to park for free, and this can be achieved by using the train station's overspill car park, leaving a 900 metre walk to the pavilion via a footpath which follows the route of the Chocolate factory's former branch line. Visitors to the parkrun should refrain from using any free on-street parking within the new housing development as this is likely to result in complaints to the parkrun volunteer team.

Anybody arriving by public transport from outside the town can use the train and alight at Keynsham station which is served by Great Western Railway trains from Bristol to the north-west and from Bath to the South-east. If travelling by train from London there is no direct train, but you can easily change at Bath Spa. Similarly anyone arriving by bus would alight at the bus stop outside the station (some buses may go a bit closer and stop outside the Chocolate Quarter buildings). The onward walk to the pavilion is about 750 metres. For cyclists, there is a bike rack just outside the pavilion, next to the main car park.

Should toilet facilities be required, the pavilion has some and these are advertised as being open from 8.30am, I wouldn't expect to have access before that time as the building was locked completely locked until the first member of staff turned up at about 8.25am. The actual start area for the parkrun is a further 300 metres to the north of the pavilion, just follow the grass along the side of the main enclosed football pitch. The briefings take place over at the start area.

The Somerdale Pavilion parkrun course is wholly within the cyclo-cross track area, which is private land and not accessible to parkrunners outside of the agreed Saturday morning arrangement - this means that you can not turn up and freedom run the course at other times. Also, the sports ground and cyclo-cross area do not allow dogs, and that rule extends to parkrun. To be clear, it's a no dogs on-site policy, so best leave any four-legged friends elsewhere.

The parkrun takes place on a flat, two-and-a-bit lap course. This is a 100% off-road course and underfoot is grass, which can get quite muddy during the winter. Please note that the area is a flood plain and can easily become waterlogged (see this news post for some photos). If planning a visit during the winter or any other time where groundwater levels could be high, keep a very close eye on the event's social media pages as cancellations are likely. The highest cancellation risk appears to be during December, January and February.

As far as footwear choice is concerned, trail shoes would be my preference all year round. Despite there being virtually no rain for at least the last week, the ground had still held onto some water, and I found my feet were completely soaked through before the parkrun had even started. I'd read beforehand that the surface underfoot is quite bumpy, but I wouldn't describe it as being any more bumpy than any other grass course. Buggy runners are welcome, and while I'm sure wheelchair users would also be welcome, the event's stats seem to suggest that there has never been a wheelchair athlete participating here.

At 9am the event gets underway when the participants are sent on their way around one of parkrun's most incredibly bonkers courses! I'd usually attempt to give a more detailed course description at this point in a write-up, but with this particular venue, it would be impossible for me to do so. It really needs to be experienced! The course starts near the track's main entrance and weaves and curves around all over the place, very little time is spent moving in a straight line. The cyclo-cross paths are mown grass and the non-path grasses are usually left to grow a little longer, so it is easy to see where the paths are. There are plenty of arrows, cones, stanchions and marshals around the course to make sure everyone follows the right route through the maze of mown cyclo-cross paths.

The highlight of the course is the now-very-famous section called the Curly Wurly. For anyone not familiar with it, it is a spiral which you enter going in a clockwise direction and at the centre you switch and come back out in an anti-clockwise direction. The Curly Wurly is negotiated three times throughout the five kilometre course, so you get to enjoy it multiple times. For some it may feel a bit dizzying, but seeing a couple of hundred people going round it at the same time is an incredible sight. The Curly Wurly name, although specific to this particular section of the course, is also a very good description of the entire 5k route, as well as tying in nicely with the area's chocolate-making heritage.

The rest of the course, while not quite as tight and twisty as its famous spiral, turns from left to right, right to left, has 180-degree turns, weaves in and out, and round and round, but never crosses itself. To the non-parkrunning bystanders, the sight of two-hundred-or-so people running all over the place in different directions must look totally barmy. To the initiated, it is simply a wonderful experience on a totally unique course where it is difficult to not spend the whole time smiling. I can say without doubt that it is one of the most memorable and fun parkruns out there.

The finish is found just after the third time around the Curly Wurly, where you can simply head across the line, collect a finish token and have it scanned, along with your personal barcode, right after the finish line. I recorded the course using my Garmin and you can view the course GPS data on the Strava website. That same data was used to create a Relive course fly-by video that can be viewed on YouTube. I will note that the current course is negotiated in a clockwise direction, whereas the original course was anti-clockwise. There are a couple of minor differences with the exact paths used, but the underlying essence of the course remains the same.

The results for event 154 were processed and published online a short while later, and 155 people took part. The number of attendees tends to hover in the mid-high 100's, occasionally breaking into the 200's, during good conditions, and generally falls down to the low 100's during the winter. Even when the course is not flooded, it can still have a wetness about it, so I would recommend having a spare pair of shoes and socks to change into post parkrun. Talking about post-parkrun, the official social refreshments venue is the Somerdale Pavilion Sports Bar, which we visited. It's pretty nice, and they do ask that muddy shoes are not worn inside (there is a shoe cleaning station outside). They serve all kinds of breakfast options from cereals to full English breakfasts, including the largest selection of vegetarian and vegan options (breakfast and lunch) I've ever seen in a regular cafe.

After the parkrun, we explored the town a little where we found some of the Roman history noted above, as well as finding the remains of Keynsham Abbey. We also found the War Memorial, Joseph Fry memorial statue and a statue of Peter Pan, which was presented to the factory owners by the employees in 1928 to mark the company's bicentenary. We also had a wander around Keynsham Memorial Park and saw the Roman mosaic floor in the town's library. We left the town around midday and started our journey back home to Kent via Stonehenge where we added another 7km to the day's activities.

It had been a great morning at Somerdale Pavilion and I was happy to have visited another one of parkrun's famous venues. It really is so unique, and I would add it to your must-do list. A huge thank you goes to all the volunteers that helped to make the event happen.

Related links:

My GPS course data (7 October 2023)
The Relive course fly-by (7 October 2023)

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